Tonight while grooming Willy, I was softly using a gelly curry on him, as always, and as I went along his back there came a point (in the lumbar region) where he clearly and simultaneously ducked away from my hand, tensed, tucked his hips in, and tightened his abdomen. I had noticed some reaction there the day before yesterday but I couldn't reproduce it after the first time, so I thought it was likely just the nerve was stimulated in just the right/wrong way. It was duly noted, however, as I'm always on the lookout for clues.
Tonight's reaction was much more clear and 100% reproducible every time, on both sides. Of course, I immediately thought of what I observed a couple days ago. I also thought about the fact that he has been uncharacteristically agitated during saddling in the last week. Not bad, but doing things like holding one leg in the air and moving around. Although I had definitely noticed the change, I thought it had more to do with his time off and not really being worked properly - I thought he was just a tad full of himself.
I sat on him at walk and trot for a total of about 10 minutes because I wanted to assess how he felt under saddle. He felt fine in terms of movement. I took the saddle off and lunged him at the trot for a few minutes in each direction. Again, he seemed to be moving well but I did not observe the same movement of his back muscles that I usually do. My favorite part about lunging is watching his back muscles flex and relax but today I didn't see much suppleness or good exercise over his topline.
My saddle was purchased for this horse specifically and I chose it based on how well it fit him - as assessed by the best and most respected saddle fitter in our area. I have reassessed it myself from time to time and still think the fit is good (I was taught what to look for in the fitting, though I'm still no expert).
I was able to show one of his owners, which I was grateful for. Although they have been absolutely great throughout everything, I thought they might start to think I was making stuff up when I mentioned this new back issue. Fortunately, Will's reaction is quite easy to see and it's pretty obvious he's sore. His owner also pointed out that the sore area also appeared to be raised slightly, suggesting some local inflammation.
Could this be the explanation I've been looking for, or is it yet another problem in a series of many unrelated ones? Like all my theorizing up to this point, some symptoms would suddenly make sense, while other symptoms don't fit at all.
SO! I was planning to get a chiropractor out if the radiographs came back clear (still don't have the final word - that's 16 days today!). I will not be chasing every last test to figure this out, but I feel that this is a reasonable course of action to pursue before throwing in the towel. I have to try.
My dilemmas are:
1) is it potentially dangerous to have chiro work if there are real spinal issues? Can they determine real skeletal problems before they mess around with my horse's spine? Does chiro really work?
2) in this situation, would it be better to have the vet out to assess his back? Would it be ok to just call the chiro? I'm out of my experience here and have no idea. It's clearly sore and appears to have inflammation. I expect the vet will want more xrays and after the clinic session of $700, I'm a little hesitant. A good reminder why I've always said I want a horse-only emergency fund before I ever buy my own horse!
So, does anyone have a course of action they take with a presenting sore back? Who do you call first?